On Sunday morning, June 12, 2005, I sat in my lounge chair, having finished the morning paper, and turned on the TV to see if the world out there was still intact. I was still in my bathrobe, as on Sundays I have given myself permission to do nothing I don't wish to do. Nothing unusual on the news channel. Suddenly I felt a sharp jolt. I saw the pictures on my family and ancestor wall started swaying. I waited, but none fell. I felt no particular fear, but, as always, the thought came into my head, "Is this the BIG one?"

It seemed like a long time before the movement stopped, but the official time was seven or eight minutes, I believe. I wondered where the epicenter was. Close, I thought. It was almost an hour before the news hit the media. It was a 5.6 quake, later downgraded to a 5.2 The epicenter was in Anza, a small quiet mountain town roughly thirty miles (as the crow flies) south and slightly east of Hemet.

Monday afternoon brought news of a larger quake out in the ocean west of Crescent City in northern California. With that one came the tsunami warning, which was later cancelled.

On Thursday I tired of my four walls and took myself out to lunch and then stopped briefly at a store. I came home, walked in the house and turned on my TV to catch one of my favorite political talk shows. There had been another quake -- that was three in four days! I felt cheated; I had been in my car when it struck at 1:53 and hadn't felt a thing. The epicenter of this one was Yuicapa, some thirty miles north and slightly east of Hemet. It turned out to be a 4.9 temblor.

My first earthquake experience took place in Seattle in 1949. I was at work at Craig Movie Supply and was on my morning coffee break when everything started shaking. I believe the balcony, where we took our breaks and where the coffee pot was kept, was built after the main building, as it seemed less sturdy than the sales floor, office and warehouse, even without an earthquake. I sat there, sipping from my cup, when the movement started. The floor just seemed to ripple. I ran down the shaking stairs to the main level.

The men who worked for Craig Movie ran outside and across the street, calling to Elaine, the other secretary, and me to follow them. I remembered reading somewhere that one should not run outside during a quake. Elaine was torn between them and me and decided to stay with me. We stood in the doorway, looking at the three or four men standing on the sidewalk on the other side of the street. Emerson, the office manager, kept urging us to come over there, but they were standing under some high wires and the tall poles on either side of them swayed dangerously back and forth. I realized later that Elaine and I were standing in the doorway with large plate glass on either side of us, and our spot wasn't much safer.

According to the newspaper later, the quake lasted just under sixty seconds, and they reported that if it had lasted much longer, it could have leveled the city. I do know those almost-sixty seconds seemed like an eternity. During that

quake I was scared.

At noontime Emerson took his less-than-a-week-old car to downtown Seattle on an errand, and there was an aftershock. He said all he could think of was his car. Things kept falling off some of the buildings, so he drove to the center of the street, stopped his car, and said some prayers. His car came through unscathed; I'm not sure about Emerson.

After the earthquake my father-in-law, Tom Campbell, told some stories of things that happened. He said someone in his office at Stone-Webster Engineering Corporation was talking to the New York office. The Seattle person stated, "We're having an earthquake, and if it goes on much longer, it could level the whole city!"

The New York person yelled to others in his office, "They're having an earthquake in Seattle, and it's leveled the whole city."

Father told another story he had heard at his club of a woman in her doctor's office. She was undressed and in one of those lovely "gowns" waiting for her doctor, when the shaking began. The woman screamed, gathered up her own clothes, and ran out and down the hall. They hadn't seen her since. Fortunately for her I don't think those paper gowns had been discovered by then. The gowns were made of washable cloth.

The newspaper reported a story of people in a downtown bar. When the shaking started, people started rushing to get outside. The quick-thinking bartender leapt over the bar and ran and locked the door, keeping the people from leaving. The customers, the article stated, were more than upset with the bartender, but he probably saved some lives, as rubble was falling off the buildings and down to the street.

I have felt several earthquakes since, but this was my first and strongest, and the happenings of that day remain quite clear in my memory.

It was 1971. Everyone knows it is not safe to stand on a tall kitchen stool to accomplish a household chore. I knew it, too, but I was in the upstairs bathroom in Westminster, Orange County, and the ceiling light was burned out. We had a six-foot wooden stepladder in the garage. I had a kitchen stool downstairs.

I brought the kitchen stool and a new bulb upstairs, positioned the stool, and climbed up on it. I reached up to unscrew the glass shade. That's when a strong aftershock of the Sylmar earthquake hit. The rolling lasted about ten seconds, but it was a long ten seconds. That's the last time I stood up on a stool with nothing to hang on to except the ceiling.

My older sister once said to me, "You keep your earthquakes (in California) and we'll keep our tornados (in Kansas)."

After thinking it over, I'll agree with that.               »»»


You can say foolish things to a dog, and the dog will give you an adoring look that says, ‘My God, you’re right! I never would have thought of that!’”               —Dave Berry


“Suppose you were an idiot...and suppose you were a member of Congress… But I repeat myself.”  —Mark Twain